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Tuesday 2 September 2014

MY MAD COW BREAK... (WISH YOU WERE HERE)

As Tourism Ireland announced a revamp this week Kim Bielenberg went on holiday in the real Ireland -- at the Red Cow roundabout

Kim Bielenberg

Published 19/01/2008 | 00:00

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The man in reservations at the Red Cow Hotel was unfazed when I asked for a room overlooking the roundabout.

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In a friendly Indian lilt he reassured me that I would be able to enjoy a fine vista of Ireland's most notorious traffic junction.

"It is only two hundred yards away,'' he boasted, demonstrating a highly-developed talent for sales and marketing that can only serve this country well. My appetite for my Mad Cow mini-break was well and truly whetted.

While Ireland's plutocrats fly away to the Bahamas at this time of year -- or perhaps take in a spot of skiing in St Moritz -- I was joining the tram set. I was off on the Luas to bask in Dublin's traffic-clogged drizzle-spattered edge city.

In 1000 years, when archaeologists go looking for signs of the great Celtic Tiger Bertieist dynasty, what will they find that truly marks out our civilisation?

The Incas had the lost city of Machu Picchu; the Greeks their Acropolis; and the Mesopotamians their Hanging Gardens of Babylon. We will leave behind for mankind the awe-inspiring N7 Wonder of the World, the Mad Cow Roundabout.

If you are going on holiday at the Mad Cow roundabout, you have to have the view.

The man in reservations was as good as his word. When I pulled back the curtain in my comfortable room -- just two doors away from the elegantly-appointed "Michelle Smith suite'' (yes, she's still a Red Cow heroine) -- there it was: the stunning vista of Ireland's most celebrated bottleneck.

There's no need to listen to the traffic reports when you can see it all for yourself from your hotel window, rumbling through the night and into the morning.

No patch of land in Ireland receives so much publicity. It leaves Newgrange and the Giant's Causeway trailing. It may not be St Tropez, but it has received more coverage than Britney Spears's backside.

The slogan of the local tourist board, based nearby in not-yet-fashionable Tallaght, is perhaps apt: "It will surprise you!''

Yes indeed it will. The area which takes in the Naas Road with its pock-marked verges and car showrooms, vast estates of council houses, several DIY superstores and much of Dublin's industrial heartland is described in the brochure, which I picked up in the lobby, as "an undiscovered jewel''.

Certainly, many tourists visiting Dublin for the first time must be surprised when they look out at the view in the morning.

In the Midlands of England they call the busy interchange, where motorways meet, the "spaghetti junction''. Our own version looks more like a dog's dinner that has been left on the pan too long.

After freshening up in my hotel room, pausing only to watch vast platoons of monstrous juggernauts thundering by, I went on an afternoon stroll. The sun would have been setting over the Plains of Kildare and the Ibis Hotel were it not for a smoggy fug.

To appreciate the Mad Cow in all its glory, one simply must walk. Surprisingly, there is actually a pedestrian path running up and over the vast mound of motorised mayhem, making it ideal for hill-walkers.

It is a wild forest of misleading signs with arrows pointing in all directions imploring motorists to watch out for trams, get in lane, go Southbound, go Northbound, go to Clondalkin and to kingdom come for all we know.

The centre of the junction is littered with piles of rubble, giant concrete tubes, rusting portacabins and half-mangled traffic cones.

A flashing electric signs tells drivers to the take slow lane to Ballymount.

But gazing in wonder from the footbridge at this mobile Manhattan, I am left pondering two questions: Why am I here? And is there such a thing as a fast lane to Ballymount?

Only when you are up close and personal with the Red Cow do you appreciate some of the finer points of those traffic signs, such as the one informing the public that the M50 motorway is not for "slow vehicles, invalid carriages, pedal cycles, pedestrians and animals.''

In fact, at five in the evening, a little souped-up invalid carriage or a compact horse would be ideal for darting through the almost stationary traffic.

To walk from one side of the Red Cow to the other, a trip that takes 20 minutes, is like following one of those loopy puzzles in a children's comic; and I imagine some motorists must get lost in it, never to be found again.

Anybody who is anybody around here is wearing one of those fetching day-glo yellow anoraks, without which one feels rather naked.

The hotel, which has a large contingent of foreign guests, is plusher than you might expect. Sadly, however, the Winter Garden restaurant looked nice but sadly does not overlook the roundabout. For those determined to eat near the hotel, there is a McDonald's drive-through nearby, and the Esso On the Run shop serves a selection of palatable chicken-based snacks only half an hour's walk away.

As well as offering Valentine's specials -- "Darling take me away from this. Take me to the Red Cow'' -- the hotel currently promotes itself as an ideal place for weddings. One can only imagine the wedding photographer trying to organise the snaps in this bustling setting.

"We'll get the bridesmaids just next to the Southbound sliproad and the groom's party by the N7 freeflow exit loop over there, but just watch that digger.''

Although the Mad Cow is not yet featured in many tourist brochures, it certainly has plenty of potential.

It is a crying shame that the then Transport Minister Seamus Brennan never proceeded with a plan to carry the Luas across the junction on stilts. If they popped a rollercoaster over the top, they could turn it into a theme park -- Tarmacworld.

Perhaps Tourism Ireland's chief executive Paul O'Toole had this splendid edifice in mind when he announced a new marketing campaign this week, saying tourists were now looking for "braggable experiences''.

"They are looking for an experience that is unique to them that they will go back and tell others about.''

And certainly the Mad Cow is uniquely Irish. Like Gaudi's famous cathedral in Barcelona, it is a giant folly that that has never been completed. It is a work in progress.

As one traffic expert informed me (before I fell asleep into my soup), the Red Cow roundabout is technically not a roundabout at all. It is a "partial free-flowing interchange'', which doesn't really trip off the tongue.

If they want to pull in the tourists, the authorities might be well advised to borrow a slogan from New York.

"Red Cow. Red Cow. So Good They Built it Twice.''

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